The Dutch government coalition collapsed on Friday 8 July 2023, just before the Dutch Parliament summer recess. With the summer break having ended, Dutch parliament has convened this week to determine which topics should remain on the agenda for possible conversion into new laws and policies and which topics are to be deemed controversial. In contradiction to historic convention, it seems that climate policy will remain a topic the current caretaker Government may continue to work on.
Traditionally, many topics are voted by a majority of Dutch Parliament to be controversial, meaning they will not be discussed further until elections have taken place and a new Government has been formed. The background to this convention is that a government which has collapsed should not rule beyond the grave. The dynamics this time around are different, especially where climate policy is concerned. Acknowledging that time is of the essence and that the climate will not stand by waiting for a new Government to be in place, it is expected that many climate-related topics will remain on the agenda, as evidenced by the Economic Affairs and Climate committee voting earlier this week, which precedes plenary voting in Dutch Parliament on Tuesday 12 September 2023.
Notably, discussions on the draft Energy Act (Energiewet) will continue, with technical briefings to be organised as early as September. The same applies to policy documents and briefings around offshore wind and hydrogen initiatives, as well as forward-looking plans around energy storage and solar energy. Plans to improve and expand the Dutch (onshore and offshore) electricity grid will be worked out further to be developed. Even nuclear energy, which is one of the most contentious topics in the energy transition debate, could remain on the agenda.
Despite the fact that policy-making may not become dormant, there are still plenty of variables that may hamper progress in the coming months. Firstly, voting on the definitive comprehensive list of controversial and non-controversial topics. Even though this week’s committee vote in favour of progressing climate policy may give a solid indication where matters are headed, the definitive list will only be voted on Tuesday 12 September 2023. Amendments and partial exclusions can therefore not be ruled out. Secondly, the question is whether there will be time at all in the coming months to continue with existing initiatives. Election day will be on Wednesday 22 November 2023. Political parties and interest groups are already devoting much of their attention to the upcoming campaign, with Dutch Parliament going into recess three weeks before the election day. There may therefore, not be much time to continue policy initiatives. Thirdly, once the new parliament has been installed, it may still decide by majority vote that (certain elements of) climate policy should be reserved for when the next Government is installed. This could be the case given the rather sizeable political shift that is expected come 22 November 2023. Given that Dutch governments always take the form of coalitions, formations are typically preceded by months of negotiations.
Therefore, whilst it is promising that Dutch Parliament appears to recognise the importance and urgency of climate action, in practice there is uncertainty whether this will amount to much and whether keeping climate policy on the agenda is largely for political reasons. Whatever the underlying rationale, it can at least be seen as further evidence that long-term thinking around climate and energy policy has taken further hold in Dutch politics.